26 February 2014: It’s time to test the testers

It’s time to test the testers

Robert Zubrin perfectly fits the mold of an independent thinker.  Zubrin is the president of Pioneer Energy and author of “Energy Victory.”  One might then, given his credentials, stereotype him as a proponent of testing students until their brains turn to mush.  But he doesn’t; in fact, in a column titled “Colorado’s school testers flunk themselves” in the Denver Post, Zubrin dissects the arguments the test-until-they-drop crowd offer.

First, testing doesn’t offer any evidence about learning that isn’t predictable.  Second, testing is an incredible waste of resources: tax dollars and learning time.  Third, testing serves primarily to punish and even terrorize teachers and schools.  I’ll add a fourth, which Zubrin alludes to in his conclusion: Testing serves as a perfect political stump issue by stirring up the passions of voters who seek a scapegoat for the shortcomings of our society and economic system.

Zubrin calls down the Colorado School Grades organization specifically and other like-minded groups by pointing out their claims about successful and failing schools are based on limited and subjective information.  Their conclusions simply don’t pass the smell test.

Zubrin also offers an indirect refresher course on cause-and-effect and correlation by identifying the relationship between “school rank and family income.”  Why do the “best and the brightest,” from the classroom to the locker rooms, tend to come from schools such as Cherry Creek and Valor Christian?  Follow the money, in this case to the kiddos’ homes.

“This correlation is so strong,” Zubrin writes, “that it is possible to predict the rank of the school in advance with fair accuracy just by using a simple formula that multiples its percentage of low-income students by 4 and subtracts 20.”

Zubrin uses that formula to near accuracy predict where several schools, including Evergreen HS, would fall.

“In short,” he continues, “what we have managed to learn is that the children of doctors and lawyers do better on standardized tests than the children of day laborers and welfare recipients.”

As Capt. Renault in “Casablanca” says to Rick explaining why his officers are raiding his café, “I’m shocked!  Shocked! To find gambling going on here.”

In addition to them being over-the-top and pointless, the costs of mandated testing, now in the hundreds of millions of dollars, only subsidize and enrich testing companies.  Those are funds that could be used to buy computers and books and allow for continuance of art and music programs that perennially go on the chopping block when budgets get tight.  Or if you’re a tight-fisted, Randian economic curmudgeon, we could cut your taxes.

So, what to do?  I propose two steps.

First, let’s change the law that allows parents to opt their children out of testing to one that proactively requires them to sign their children up.  Further, in so doing, the parents would sign a contract saying they will work with their sons and daughters in preparing for the test, from studying to getting a good night’s sleep and solid breakfast before the tests are administered.  Let’s share the responsibility for the success of the students between the teachers and the students and their parents.

Second, it’s time for government and societal leaders who are the primary proponents of ritualistic testing to show their intellectual acumen by taking the tests themselves…all of them, from the third grade to the junior level ACT.  In Colorado, that would include our governor and lieutenant governor, state legislators, school board members and every candidate for those offices.  It would also include media test advocates, such as the Denver Post’s editorial page editor Vincent Carroll.

The results would be posted, of course, on the appropriate websites, and the test-takers’ scores would be compared and contrasted to their peers in other states and media outlets.  After all, we Coloradans deserve nothing but the best and brightest in leadership positions.

It would be fascinating to see how Gov. Hickenlooper stacks up against, say, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) or Jan Brewer (R-AZ) and Carroll with his New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post counterparts.

It’s time to test the testers.  It’s simply a matter of accountability.

Perhaps then, we could shift the debate from imposing “punitive testing programs,” as Zubrin calls them, that drill students “into dullness to meet the quotas of educational commissars,” and begin once again to energize students by having “their minds enlivened with science fairs and Shakespeare fairs, history re-enactments and great issue debates.”

Imagine that…learning being fun.

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